St Jerome / 26th Wednesday in Ordinary Time
Job 9:1-12, 14-16, Luke 9:57-62
St Jerome was fond of a saying: “the desert loves the naked.”
To be naked means to live with Job in the awareness that “we enter the world naked and we leave the world naked.”
To be naked means to be like the Son of Man, with nowhere to rest our head. When a would-be disciple of Jesus declares “I will follow you wherever you go,” he says in effect, “I will make my notion of you, the idea of you as my guru… into a nest, a shelter for my self.”
But to really follow Jesus means like him to have no resting place…
Instead we inhabit what one writer calls a state of “psychological homelessness.” When Jesus lives in and through us then like him we have nowhere to rest our head.
There is no relationship, no storyline, no prejudice or ideology, no preference, opinion or practice we can lean on, nothing to prop up our ego. All the scaffolding is pulled away.
With time we may come to a kind of rest in this not having anywhere to rest, we can be at home in our homelessness because we find ourselves more deeply united to the life of Jesus within us, who passed through this world as a stranger.
Job loses everyone and everything, his family, his wealth, his standing—but holds on to an idea of his innocence. At last he lets go of even this, overwhelmed, obliterated by an encounter with the transcendent God.
He says to his friends, “Yes, I recognize your way of arguing, but what do such human story-lines mean before the face of eternity?” Job’s intense suffering has brought him to see “God” not as one more linguistic/conceptual construct to manipulate, defend, or take sides over… but as the one who “removes the mountains , shakes the earth out of its place and makes the pillars beneath it tremble.”
One contemporary spiritual writer speaks of the difference between “translation” and “transformation.” In the first kind of spiritual experience one is given a new belief or model according to which we, in effect, rearrange our mental furniture, and ward off the pain of isolation: “This function of religion does not usually or necessarily change the level of consciousness in a person; it does not deliver radical transformation. Nor does it deliver a shattering liberation from the separate self altogether. Rather it consoles the self, fortifies the self, defends the self, promotes the self.”
Transformation by contrast, “…does not fortify the separate self, but utterly shatters it—not consolation but desolation, not entrenchment but emptiness, not complacency but explosion, not comfort but revolution— in short, not a conventional bolstering of consciousness but a radical transmutation and transformation at the deepest seat of consciousness itself.”
The transcendent God “removes the mountains” by which we prop up our sense of self, and “shakes the earth out if its place”…the sun and stars by which we’ve learned to orient ourselves vanish from the sky…
We dread this encounter with the living God whose reality explodes the narrow world of our attachments far more than we fear judgment by the wrath of a “God” who is simply the shadow of our own anger. Our rage, our addiction to revenge, dressed up as God, still leaves the nest or den of our ego undisturbed, and may even be its best defense.
“The desert loves the naked.” The more we let go of our illusions and attachments, the more deeply we experience the desert’s love.
Jesus calls us to follow him into a kind of “psychological homelessness,” a radical interior surrender where, in union with him, we “rest” only in having nowhere to rest our head..